Nov 29, 2015

Kyoto - The Art of the Five Senses Wagashi Experience at Toraya Ichijo Branch 虎屋菓寮

How can one miss the opportunity to experience Japanese confectionery "wagashi" when visiting Kyoto? Once the capital of Japan, the traditional delicacies such as artworks, temples, and cuisines are well preserved while the modern world gently intertwined throughout the streets.

On a weekday morning, I walked pass the Kyoto Imperial Palace and found my block of peaceful mind at this tranquil establishment Toraya Ichijo Branch (but my Zen was interrupted with excitement as soon as colorful anmitsu arrived) -

Toraya's English website did a pretty good job explaining some major types of wagashi, common ingredients used, and the art of the five senses. As for this post, let me simply focus on showing how beautiful the Ichijo branch is. 

If you're coming from the Imperial Palace, it should be easy to spot a shiny white wall along the street with Toraya's silver logo -

The kanji logo means "tiger." That's the confectionery shop for to-go purchase only. Turn into the alley and the tearoom is just few steps away -

Menu and wagashi sample display -

There are many wagashi places throughout Kyoto, however, I was drawn to the vibe of Toraya Ichijo branch. Spacious area based on Japanese traditions and infused with modern touches. 

There are two outdoor seating sections, one faces the quite alley with calming water view and the other locates in the opposite side looking over the tidy grass yard -

The sunshine and the tranquil outdoor setting signaled a gentle greeting. 

Walking in - 

Counter area -

Arched roof -  

View from my table. Decided to sat in the way back in order to get a full view of the place -

The indoor section somehow gave me a more calming sensation, perhaps from the art works and book selections - 

You can bring the books to the table and enjoy some quite reading time along with delicate wagashi.

Welcoming hot tea -

Menu and some cute little seasonal namagashi -

Click on the image for an enlarged view -

Complimentary yokan -

Japanese citrus and red bean flavors.  Based on my past experiences, even though Japanese desserts are usually lighter and not as sweet as western version, but yokan and namagashi are actually pretty sweet. It's better to savor these treats in smaller bites with tea to my opinion. 

Seasonal namagashi hatsu shigure 初時雨 and mikan mochi 蜜柑餅 -

Namagashi descriptions in Japanese - 

Got a little bit greedy so ordered anmitsu with white syrup and one glass of iced matcha glacé -

Observe closely and you can sense the almost foamy-liked tiny matcha powder, just the right amount of tea aroma to balance off the sweet treats -

Mochi inside hatsu shigure - 

Too cute to be eaten -

Mikan one has a more elastic texture compared to the paste-like hatsu shigure -

Not easy to cut through the surface but was surprised how soft it was when biting into the namagashi. The texture also bounded seamlessly with the mochi inside. Both layers blended well in the mouth without falling apart into two independent components. 

The red bean paste was very delicate. The texture reminds me of Joël Robuchon's signature mashed potato. The anko was dense and fulfilling - 

The red bean/azuki paste was on the sweeter side but all other components only carried a gentle touch of sugar. Not necessary in need of white sugar syrup if enjoying some bites with azuki paste. 

Mochi was actually pretty good with just the right amount of chewiness to add more fun to the anmitsu. You can also taste one thin layer of powered sugar lightly settling on the surface of small mochi. 

Friendly and not overly interrupting service here at Toraya Ichijo branch. I came soon after it opens to enjoy some quite alone time before my big lunch around the area. Whether if you're a sweet treat person or not, don't miss the chance of trying some wagashi. For wagashi newbies, maybe start with finding a prestigious brand and go to its flagship location or the original store to get a full experience of such fine Japanese delicacies. 

Cindy's rating: 7

Toraya Ichijo Branch 虎屋菓
Karasuma-Nishi-iru, Ichijo-dori
Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto

Opening hours: 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Recent update: Toraya Ichijo branch will be closed on 2015/12/8, 2016/2/9, 2016/3/8

Nov 20, 2015

Sour and Spicy Cabbage Stir Fry - 醋溜高麗菜

If you ever want to try something "heavier" than simple stir fry veggies, this sour and spicy version can be the answer. A good amount of vinegar and chilies were incorporated but the end result was refreshing instead of greasy and oily. 

Traditionally sour and spicy cabbage stir fry calls for rice vinegar, the kind with pale yellow hue. I've also added one of my kitchen staples - fresh lemon juice to further brighten up the flavor.

Sour and spicy cabbage stir fry - 


  • 1 small cabbage or 1/2 medium cabbage
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 6 dried chilies
  • 4 slices fresh wood-ear 
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 4 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorn oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt


Wash the cabbage and tear into smaller pieces. Peel and roughly chop the garlic cloves. 

Bring a pot of water to a boil and quickly dip in the wood-ear, about 10 seconds. Drain well, chop the wood-ear into smaller pieces and trim away the tough center if any. 

Drizzle 1 tablespoon of Sichuan peppercorn oil and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and turn to medium high heat. Add in the garlic and dried chilies, cook till the garlic almost gets burned. Sprinkle some salt during the process.

Turn up the heat and add in wood-ear pieces, cook for about 30 seconds then add in the cabbage. Higher heat can speed up the process while creating that distinct Chinese stir fry aroma to the dish. The edges of the cabbage can also browned nicely. If higher heat can't be obtained, just try your best and cook till the cabbage wilts a little.

Mix the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and corn starch in a small bowl first then pour into the pan. Give it a quick stir, taste and see if need to adjust the taste with more salt. Squeeze in 1/2 lemon juice when the cabbage is almost ready.

You can even skip the lemon juice and substitute with black vinegar for a stronger taste. 

Other Asian stir fry recipes:

Nov 15, 2015

Osaka Fine Dining at Fujiya1935 - Michelin Three Stars Experience that Delivered to All Senses

Landed in Osaka, Japan in the afternoon and managed to hold my serious food cravings till the next day, and it was well worth the wait. 

The very first Fujiya was dated back in 1935, where the current chef's great grandfather ran a dining hall and a rice merchant business side by side. Years passed, this place passed down to grandfather, father, and now the forth generation chef Tetsuya Fujiwara. 

The styles of the dishes have evolved and further interpreted by the current chef, who spent years of culinary journey in Europe. 

As I entered the restaurant, the maître d' confirmed my reservation and asked me to wait a moment. The waiting area had a few tables and a water dropping display. The dimmed lighting and the dark green/blue-ish surface made the droplets look like mercury. One by one, the silver bullets slowly circling to the midst of darkness.

The server came out and greeted the customers. Based on time of arrival, the server guided the customers to the actual restaurant. Fujiya1935 has a long rectangular shaped layout. Customers walked pass the semi-opened kitchen on the first floor, entering to second floor dining area. Restrooms are located on the third floor. 

My table was right next to the stairway, a good peaking window to the busy but very well organized kitchen.

The restaurant provided same set menu for every customer. Once seated, the server brought over a service plate, utensils, water, and a hot towel -

It was a simple lunch, so I only ordered one glass of French white wine instead of full on wine pairing to go with the meal -

Gentle plum-like aroma, which paired very well with a series of fall inspired dishes. Not too plain yet not too strong, a good hint of acidity to highlight the flavors.

Meal started with Fujiya1935's signature airy bread -

"Chestnut bread with air bubbles." 

The texture was almost fluffy-like and softer than steamed cake. There were also smaller bits of chestnut throughout, that along with the moist texture still managed to hold its shape well without collapsing. 

"Conger eel, ancient rice" - 

Never a big fan of eel but this might be my favorite bite of eel over the past several years. The rice carried a stronger character than the usual kind - firmer, sturdier, also in a way chewier. The eel was soft, moist, and not even one tiny edible bone was found.

It was seasoned with fresh wasabi and tiny bits of young ginger. The components might sound overpowering but the overall flavor was in fact very well balanced and provided just the right kick to start off the meal.

"Parent sweetfish confit, sauce of river weed" -

Seasonal fish with eggs inside. As I pressed down the spoon trying to separate the head and the body, the fish went crackled apart. It was cooked to crispy, eating the head was like enjoying a bite of well seasoned fried crumbs. 

The fish carries a natural gentle bitterness flavor, the pickled cucumber took a role cutting through that taste while providing a refreshing touch at the same time.

Two wooden boxes came to the table -

Bread served with salted lard and soy milk/walnut paste -

Slight yeasty aroma. I personally preferred the nutty walnut spread than the luscious lard.

"Spaghetti, blue crab, black soybeans, Mimolette cheese" -

The less common Mimolette cheese looks like an old and dried melon, slightly sweet and filled with nutty aroma. Adding a good portion to the spaghetti, I couldn't even identify if the sweet scent was from the crab or from the cheese.

"Pork from Fukui, shiitake mushrooms" -

Beautifully cooked slice of pork. The pork jus mixed with some olive oil was drizzled after the plate has been brought over to the table.

This high quality pork was almost beef-like, tastes very similar to veal. Along with thin and crunchy edges, the pork was very, very delicious. However, the shiitake mushroom did not let the pork took away all the spotlights. Prepared tempura style, the thin crust was lightly seasoned, added extra satisfaction when biting into the juicy meaty fungus. 

"Kiwi berry sherbet and lime cream" -

Then the server brought over a hot box. Smoke gradually permeated the table as soon as the lid was lifted, a gentle cracking noise can also be heard while tiny fire sparkles trying to hold on to the oxygen -

An aromatic chestnut with some smoky woody scents.

"Chestnut pudding, coffee jelly of rum flavor" - 

Definitely a dessert designed for adults. The jelly alone was bitter and slightly smoky, worked well with sweet chestnut pudding on the bottom. 

After the meal, selection of espresso, herbal tea, or black tea -

Menu was provided in the end -

Considering the service, the ambiance, the food, and the presentation involved in my two hour long dining experience, a costly meal perhaps? In fact, the whole lunch set plus one extra glass of French white wine was under $100 USD. What more can you ask for? 

Fujiya1935 currently holds three Michelin stars status.


2-4-14 Yariyamachi Chuo-ku, Osaka 540-0027
〒540-0027 大阪市中央区鑓屋町2-4-14
(+81) 6-6941-2483

Opening Hours:
Lunch 12:00 noon ~ 1:00 p.m. last order
Dinner 6:00 p.m. ~ 8:00 p.m. last order
Close on Sundays and first Monday of the month